Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What Is Isle Royale?

First, it is pronounced as if it were spelled Isle Royal with the accent on the first syllable. I can't get used to that, since we spent all our planning and anticipating time pronouncing it like it is spelled with the accent on the second syllable. So please, even though you know that now, do not be smug and annoying by correcting people who say it 'wrong'.

Isle Royale is an island off the tip of the 'nose' of Minnesota, the pointy most eastern spot of the state. To get to the island, you must rely on some form of water or air transportation, and we took a ferry from Grand Portage, Minnesota. The island is about 45 miles long and about 9 miles at its widest point. Formed by volcanic rock being lifted, the island offers rocky coastline, evergreen forests, peaks of exposed rock and alpine plants, valleys of streams and creeks and even bogs, with sloping forests between. The slopes are covered mainly in deciduous forests of various kind, with young forests of birch and aspen and older forests of maple. The coastline and the peaks are mainly evergreens. If the mention of streams and bogs made you think of flies and mosquitoes, you were correct but probably not extreme enough. But the beauty of the natural ecosystems more than makes up for it. Because the island is an island, isolated from the larger environment, the ecosystems are unique. There are moose and wolves and fox but not a 'complete' complement of predator-prey animals, so the populations have long been a favorite for study by biologists. Control to the island is controlled, so there is not litter or abandoned signs of 'settlement' and so the environment has a very pristine feel to it. There is the quiet of nature, with not highways or airports. One hears the occasional seaplane or ferry, but for the most part, all one hears is nature, which, once attuned to it, can seem very loud!
One can be dropped off and picked up in a number of places on the island, but we chose to be dropped off at one end and backpack to the other end. One is required to camp at designated sites and not 'in the wild', so planning a route that your and your companions can do is important to success so that you not in camp too early with nothing to do because of too short routes, and so that you do not end up tired and worn out far from camp, needing to break the rules and camp there or trudge on and on and on to get to camp. Our days were from about 6 to about 8 miles. We hiked out of the ranger station to our first campsite, then spent 4 more nights at different campsites, hiking in to the ranger station on the last day to camp there for the ferry right out in the morning. It was hard work, but it was amazingly beautiful and incredibly fascinating. Yeah, I'd do it again.

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